Niantic is a leading augmented reality company (with an initial focus on augmented reality games) that's building a state-of-the-art planet-scale augmented reality platform for current and future generations of AR hardware. Outside of her work with Niantic, Maryam is the Founder of XR Portal, a platform empowering the next generation of empaths and change-makers through immersive technologies.
Caspar Thykier: I'm so pleased to be joined by Maryam Sabour, the business development lead for AR and platform at Niantic, which does literally sound like the greatest job in the world. And maybe to kick off, you could tell us a little bit about how you got into AR and the incredible journey over the last decade.
Maryam Sabour: Absolutely. And thank you for having me. Well, I started my journey half a decade ago as a business consultant and advisor to early-stage companies, both in the AR and the VR space across content advertising and education. The last two and a half years, I've been focused on enabling planet-scale AR experiences at Niantic.
And this includes our slate of location-based AR games such as Pokemon Go. In regards to Niantic, our roots are linked to mapping. So our executives were the original founders of Google Earth, and since 2015, we've been developing the AR map of the world. So this 3D map of the world will enable developers to build the most immersive AR experiences from small experiences, highlighting local communities to planet-scale experiences across nations or countries.
And essentially our real-world platform enables AR experiences that encourage exploration of the real world, social interaction and physical activity. So Niantic is already taking advantage of this platform through our games. But we also want to enable third-party developers to also take advantage of this platform. And that's kind of what we're really excited about.
Caspar Thykier: Yeah, absolutely. And I guess what have been the big lessons and almost turning points for you then in XR over that last decade what do you think has really created sort of value or, or lead to those kinds of positive outcomes? Specifically in the field that you work in?
Maryam Sabour: I can't work at Niantic and not identify the launch of Pokemon Go. I think everyone would agree that, you know, Pokemon Go launching in 2016, and it both established and democratize the idea of AR kind of among the average consumer or the general population. Purists, I think, would say that Pokemon Go isn't really augmented reality because it didn't incorporate kind of traditional ideas of AR, which is more about, you know, visually seeing some virtual content augmenting your physical space.
But I think no one can deny that it was indeed the first time we saw the synergy between digital and physical. That really felt immersive and that actually changed people's behaviors. We are, you know, got people moving as a consequence of the digital world. So that's not like augmenting reality then, you know, I could probably give you an example that has really stood out to me.
And I think it will definitely drive the point home. So in 2016, there was a small town in Japan. They were hit with a natural disaster via a major earthquake, and this decimated, their local economy drastically decreasing visitors and tourism. As the territory government wanted to revitalize the local tourism industry, they creatively looked at Pokemon Go.
And so we organized a three-day in-game event, purely digital where Pokemon would virtually appear in the desert surrounding the town, which was an area that basically had imagined nothing but empty, empty sand dunes and site. And the result was outstanding. 90,000 players descended on the town and the town itself only had 190,000 people living there.
And a whopping $16 million was added to the local economy just because of those three days and all because Niantic had augmented reality by placing virtual content into the real world so that people could discover it. So kind of going back to the question, I think the major lesson is that the concept of augmenting reality is kind of more fluid than I think we would have thought in the beginning where it kind of any marriage of digital and physical content can augment one's experience of the world.
Our focus is getting people outdoors and connecting with others, and the impact of AR can be seen. And even the most simple act for us, which is just taking a walk outside in your neighborhood.
And enriching that experience. So I'm sure you've heard in the news, you know, Niantic explorers have collectively walked over 30 billion kilometers, which is like walking from earth to Pluto and back, and then four, four or five times more. So I've been lucky obviously to work with a company where our users are experiencing the benefits of AR like on the daily.
And I've mentioned that it's not just physical wellbeing, but mental wellbeing as well. We've seen stories in the news of players who have lost weight playing location-based VR games, but, you know, we've actually had even more players send us letters, firsthand telling us how they've been able to overcome depression or anxiety.
In fact, there are research papers that have also been published, stating that location-based AR games produce a sense of belonging, where it facilitates conversation. Among strangers in real life which can help build social connectedness. So again, going back to this beautiful synergy of using the virtual to bring people closer together in the physical world, I think is really the most impactful outcome I've seen in the last 10 years.
Caspar Thykier: Undoubtedly I think that notion of AR as a discovery channel and for exploration and getting people out of the house and on their feet, it is nice to have something that is a little bit more wholesome about sort of digital engagement. So it's amazing. And it's still sort of extraordinary to think that, you know, that was 2016. It feels like it's been around forever in a way, but by goodness, it's changed the landscape for AR immeasurably, for sure. What excites you most about the kind of where XR is today and where it is going in the coming years?
Maryam Sabour: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mentioned our planet-scale AR platform. You know, this is powering hundreds of millions of players across our slate of games. But what I'm excited about is paving the way for the next generation of AR experiences. Even beyond gaming, as we make our AR platform available to third-party developers for any type of AR experience.
So whether it's social, shopping, entertainment, education, fitness. I think it's pretty surreal. You know, we could say that we're building the world's largest repository of 3D images of real-world places hand-in-hand with our players. And I think we know we've uploaded AR scans across 635,000 locations globally.
So what excites me most is being able to open up access to this platform and enabling developers to bring their ideas to market. And you know, in the company, we like to say, we're connecting the atoms, which is the real world and the bits, the digital world to really converge seamlessly so we can create new AR experiences.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And maybe I could add one more there, which is maybe not so much on the content side, but a little more. To the hardware side. We announced a partnership with Qualcomm last year to co-create a reference design for consumer AR glasses. I think as we see the fruits of this synergy come to life over the coming years, that'll be really exciting as we get closer.
Not only the hardware getting lighter, smaller, more immersive, but also moving from mobile AR experiences to creating AR experiences for head-mounted displays, where you're no longer limited to kind of, you know, the screen of your smartphone to see virtual content, we can have these real heads up experiences.
You know, that'll really enable kind of the seamless. Virtual content interacting in your world. So I'd love to have this conversation again with you like 10 years from now, right. And be wearing this pair of AR or like virtually in the quarter.
I've got like one minute left until our conversation ends. So. I think we've seen a lot of these dystopian futures when it comes to immersive technology. And often it means you know, people see that it's kind of an escape from reality, but really AR is meant to enhance not escape. So the more the industry kind of builds that future with that future in mind, the more we can look forward to this positive integration of AR in our lives, where it's organic and it's enriching, and it really just helps us interact with the real world better.
Caspar Thykier: Wow. It's been so great to meet you. I believe our 10 minutes is basically up already. We'll be talking about that. Lauren, thank you so much again, really appreciate it.
Maryam Sabour: Thank you so much.